Ben Stange on April 15, 2015 14 Comments One of the best things about being a homebrewer is the freedom that comes with the hobby. Homebrewers are free to experiment in many ways which would be considered impractical, expensive, and even crazy in a commercial setting. This freedom often creates some fantastic ingenuity at the homebrew level that would never fly in a commercial brewery. One of the more popular of these inventions is “no sparge brewing”. This method of brewing can save time and equipment, but has its own set of limitations and expenses that makes it an impractical concept when scaled up. What is No-Sparge Brewing? In order to understand no-sparge brewing, it’s important to understand the basics of all grain brewing. In all-grain brewing, you extract the fermentable sugars and flavors of the grain by performing two major steps before the boil: Mashing: Basically, you make a grain tea at a specific temperature. Holding the temperature allows enzymes to break down complex starches into fermentable sugars. Sparging: Once your mash has completed, you drain out the tea and sparge with more hot water to rinse as much sugar as possible from the grain without extracting unpleasant tannins. A lot of time is spent debating the advantages and disadvantages of continuous sparging and batch sparging, but no sparge brewing is a third option which doesn’t always get mentioned. In no sparge brewing, you skip the sparge step completely, which can save significant time on your brew day. In order to do this, though, there are some important considerations that have to be made. 3 No Sparge Brewing Techniques There are a few different methods of no sparge brewing, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, they all require additional grain and water, but can save a lot of time in the brewing process. Some brewers report that the body of the beer is improved by not sparging, though the evidence of this is primarily anecdotal. So, the main disadvantage is a decreased brewhouse efficiency, which increases your cost in the amount of grain needed. In addition, you are also limited in beer styles. Brewing higher gravity beers becomes far more expensive in no sparge brewing, and your mash tun size can be a very big problem when trying to brew bigger beers, as well. The main advantage is that you save a significant amount of time sparging. You may also save money on additional brewing equipment, but that depends greatly on which method you choose to implement, and will be offset somewhat on the added grain costs. 1. Traditional No Sparge Brewing The first method is to simply cut out the sparging process altogether. This can be accomplished by simply adding a lot more grain. Typically, a brewer will add about 33% more grain on their malt bill, resulting in an increased price tag. You can see why this would be unpopular with commercial breweries. In addition to adding more grain, you will need to add more water. Let’s say you are brewing a pale ale with 10 pounds of grain. You might mash with 3.75 gallons of water and then sparge with an additional 4.7, making about 8.5 gallons for the entire batch. If we assume a 0.36 qt per pound volume for the grain, the entire mash will take up less than 9.5 gallons. With no sparge brewing, you’ll now need to include all of that water with the grain in your mash tun, plus allow an additional .10 gallons of water to your mash tun for each of the 3.3 pounds of grain you will be adding (for grain absorption). So, you go from needing a mash tun which can hold ten pounds of grain and 4.7 gallons of water to needing a mash tun that can hold 13.3 pounds of grain and 8.83 gallons of water (give or take). With the approximate volume of 13.3 pounds of grain being 1.2 gallons, (at 0.36 qt/lb), you will need a mash tun with a total volume of at least 13.6 gallons. That is a significantly larger vessel for a 5 gallon batch of beer than the 10 gallon Rubbermaid you could be using if you’re sparging. Alternately, you can mash with less water (but as much as possible) and then dilute it to meet your pre-boil volume, but you will lose even more efficiency and the equation breaks down. 2. Brew in a Bag (BIAB) Brewing in a bag is a common form of no sparge brewing. It involves mashing in your kettle using a large nylon or heat resistant mesh “bag”. You heat the full volume of water (what you would normally use for mashing and sparging) to the kettle to strike temperature. Then you add the grain inside a mesh bag, which lines your kettle and holds all of the grain. When your mash is done, you lift the entire bag and all of the soaking wet grain out of the kettle and hold it up while it drains. As you can imagine, this is pretty near impossible to so safely by hand, so a lot of BIAB brewers use pulleys or winches to help with lifting and draining. Other than the method of doing this, Brew in a Bag requires essentially the same considerations as traditional no sparge brewing. You still need to increase your grist by about 33%. The advantage of Brew In a Bag is that you’ll need a lot less equipment than you would with a two-vessel no sparge setup. That also means less cleanup. Overall, BIAB is a better approach to no sparge brewing because of requiring less equipment. 3. Go Big or Go Home The final option we’ll discuss as a no sparge brewing method is a two-vessel recirculating system. The commercial example of this brewing system is Blichmann Engineering’s BrewEasy system. This system allows you to recirculate your mash water between your boil kettle and your mash tun continuously, which creates a very nice filter bed. It also increases your efficiency over traditional no sparge brewing and BIAB considerably. In addition, having a RIMS system gives you an incredible amount of control over the mash temperature. Unfortunately, it also comes with a significant equipment cost. You can build your own Two-Vessel RIMS system like the BrewEasy, as well. You may save some money over buying the BrewEasy outright, but this will still be more expensive than the other no sparge methods. Overall, no sparge brewing is a great way to shorten your brew day if you’re brewing a low gravity beer or are limited on your equipment budget. Unfortunately, this method of brewing does not offer the same flexibility as some other mashing and sparging methods.